Thursday, May 12 2022

“How is that fair?” Issues with state rent relief and access to lawyers exacerbate grievances for small landlords as rent remains unpaid

By: Kaye Paddyfoote and Danielle Dawson

Joan Zhu stands on the balcony of her property. She is in the midst of years-long legal proceedings to evict her tenants, who reside in the ground floor apartment, for non-payment. “I use my kids’ college savings to pay the mortgage to keep the house or else I lose everything,” she said. Brooklyn, NY. Wednesday April 6, 2022. Danielle Dawson for NY City Lens.

Covid-19 has presented difficulties everywhere, especially in the housing market.

Smallholders are frustrated with New York State policies regarding their rental properties. They say it is unfair that tenants can apply for government assistance without facing consequences when they fail to pay rent even though they can afford it.

Joan Zhu owns a two-family apartment in Sheepshead Bay and has received no rental income from the tenant for the past two years. She says the person named on the lease has the income to pay the $60,000 she owes. But because they applied for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which freezes action in a legal eviction proceeding, it allowed them to stop paying rent.

“How is it fair to the owner that [tenants] can be refused, then reapply for ERAP, and if they are refused again, they still don’t have to pay for it,” Zhu said. “It can take up to 180 days for a decision, that’s six months they don’t have to pay rent.”

Thus, small landlords say they have the impression that their tenants are “cheating” the system.

While the tenant is applying, PARE provides housing assistance payments directly to landlords on behalf of low- and middle-income households who are at risk of homelessness or instability.

Down the street from Joan Zhu’s property is a three-story house owned by the person named on her tenants’ lease. Zhu and other small landlords believe their wealthier tenants have taken advantage of systems in place to protect low-income tenants. Brooklyn, NY. Wednesday April 6, 2022. Danielle Dawson for NY City Lens.

ERAP’s sister program, the Landlord Rental Assistance Program (LRAP), offers similar benefits, but it has myriad accessibility issues, given the difficult qualifications for most small homeowners to meet. Among these are requirements that landlords have a tenant who has left the rental property with unpaid rent arrears or the landlord has a tenant who resides in an apartment with rent arrears but will not agree to request an ERAP.

Advocates for landlords and tenants are aggravated by the lack of funding for these programs. ERAP only reimburses 12 months of arrears of rent or 3 months of future rent, which for some tenants does not cover all of their debt. LRAP, on the other hand, has not accepted applications since November 2021, putting landlords in a position where they must rely on tenants to pay rent or obtain financing from ERAP.

“We hear people begging all the time” for program expansion, said Andrea Shapiro, advocacy director for the Met Council on Housing. “Our state could decide to extend [ERAP] to cover more months. He can invest more money to expand program eligibility. It’s often not that these tenants simply choose not to pay because they are protected by the program.

In New York, tenants have access to free legal assistance when facing eviction proceedings in Housing Court. Those earning about 200% of the poverty line are eligible for full representation by legal service providers, such as Legal Aid Society.

Kennisha Gilbert, who owns a duplex in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, said the courts are a failure of the system because the laws are one-sided in favor of tenants.

“Someone who can afford it shouldn’t be entitled to a free lawyer,” she said. “They should offer me the same, we earn about the same salary.”

Since the eviction moratorium ended in January, housing courts, like the one in the Bronx, have been overwhelmed with eviction cases. Legal service providers say the pace of processing cases is too fast. Owners say it’s not fast enough yet. Bronx, NY. Wednesday March 29, 2022. Danielle Dawson for NY City Lens.

Around 18,000 cases have been filed since the moratorium policy expired on January 22, overwhelming the court system and legal service providers who are obliged to provide advice to people below a certain income threshold. For example, these Bronx providers refused every case assigned to them during the month of March, according to a spokesperson for the New York courts.

All of these issues with the courts “would certainly impact landlords as well,” said Matthew Tropp, director of housing at the Legal Aid Society. ” Often, [the tenant] having a lawyer helps bring about a resolution. Most of the time, landlord attorneys, especially even those who are small landlords, prefer to have an attorney on the other side to discuss this resolution. »

To be eligible for PARE, a household must earn less than 80-120% of the region’s median income. The median income determined by the New York City Department of Housing and Urban Development is $107,000 for a three-person household.

Given the delays with the online application for ERAP, Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program NYC, suggests that the determination of ERAP should take place in court.

“All the while, tenants are accumulating more rental debt. So by the time they show up in court, we find that they owe a lot more months than they would have had if they had already appeared in court,” he said.

Ruo Lan, a smallholder from Long Island, Nassau County, said it was unfair that her tenant was receiving government assistance while making more than enough money.

Lan and his family own two properties. The tenant of one unit, which had received government assistance for six months, has not paid rent since that assistance expired in September 2021. More than $12,600 in back rent is now due, a Lan said.

“We still have to pay property tax, which is over $12,000 a year,” Lan said. “My husband had to start a temporary job. He’s 72, so it’s tough.

Lan is not only worried about the property tax bill, but also about her daughter.

Lan’s daughter is a veteran and they bought the house so she could have a place to live after serving. Her daughter was homeless for part of the pandemic, but has since gotten temporary work as a pharmacist at a local pharmacy. Yet she still struggles to pay the rent for her apartment.

“She served the country for seven or eight years and now she’s coming back and she doesn’t have a house to live in because someone is occupying her house,” Lan said.

Zhu’s Brooklyn property has two apartments — she lives in the upstairs unit with her family. Under New York State law, smallholders, including Zhu, own properties of four units or less. Brooklyn, NY. Wednesday April 6, 2022. Danielle Dawson for NY City Lens.

“I use the savings to save for my kids for college, to pay the mortgage to keep the house, otherwise I lose everything,” said Joan Zhu, the smallholder from Brooklyn.

Zhu and Lan are still waiting to find out when their next court day will be, but in the meantime they worry about their property taxes going up and how long they will still have to pay the mortgage on their house in their home. poached.

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